Little Rock JT Tarpley approached us out of the blue three years ago with a wild and crazy idea. He wanted to make a documentary about KABF, our 100,000-watt noncommercial radio station broadcasting throughout central Arkansas. This was during the time of troubles in the wake of the mind-blowing election of Donald Trump to the presidency turning so many people’s world upside down. Tarpley’s notion was that he would tell the story of the resistance, if you will, through the lens of a foundational community institution, KABF.
How in the world would he manage that? We didn’t know, but of course we said, yes, what did we have to lose? It was a documentary after all. Many are called, and few are completed, so what’s to worry. The ACORN documentary, “The Organizer” drug on for eight years. JT swore his would be different. He was going to do it on a shoestring, and he was going to do it quickly. Famous last words.
We heard from him last year. Would a couple of us be willing to take a look at what he had been doing the last two years? Ok, sure. He then told me it was 180 minutes long. Holy-moly! We’ll watch some of it, but…. So, Toney Orr, KABF’s board chairmen, and John Cain, the program director, and me sat down with him and watched a bit on a busy day. Our advice? What did we know? He had some interesting stuff, but it was just too long. JT said he wanted to keep it all. Ok, good luck.
A week ago, he reached out. The documentary now had a name: “88.3 FM – The Voice of the People.” It was down to 100 minutes, and darned close to finished. He wanted to know when I was next in Little Rock to see if we could do a “sneak preview” screening for KABF hosts and friends. What the heck, sure, that was going to be a hella-day anyway with stops in Greenville and Drew, Mississippi, but I could be there by 630 PM in Vino’s back room.
We had a good, solid crowd of thirty or more, mostly KABF hosts. And, lo and behold, I’ll be honest, to my surprise, it was a great documentary on the station! Good camera work. Parts of it were actually funny, which captures the true heart of KABF. The diversity of the programming – and its hosts – old and young, black, white and Latino, came through clearly. Ok, it was still too long. Some pieces were ten minutes that should have been two, like the King march. Too many speeches without enough connection to the main themes in the women’s march and the school closings, but, hey, that’s just a matter of tightening everything down.
Props to JT Tarpley for a crazy idea and for making it happen. I’m biased, but my verdict as a now experienced documentary veteran, is that once this is at a festival near you, or anywhere you can get your hands on it, grab a copy or a chair and enjoy. Then, throw a couple of dollars towards Tarpley so he can get it finished and always remember to show some love to KABF and become a member and jump for your wallet during pledge drives.